JULY 28, 2004 -- Reaching 145.7 million Americans, the outdoor recreation population has grown larger, younger, and become more dedicated over a six-year study period, according to the 2004 Outdoor Recreation Participation Study for the US, released this week by the Outdoor Industry Association.
An analysis of outdoor recreation behavior in 21 human-powered activities performed by Americans 16 and over, the Study focuses on the growth of casual "participants," as well as devoted "enthusiasts" since 1998.
Adding 16 million new faces since 1998, outdoor "participants" now compromise two-thirds of the national population. Within that group, outdoor "enthusiasts" have surged more than 25% to 46.8 million people, indicating a shift toward more frequent and more dedicated outdoor use.
"The long-term picture is very bright. With overall participation growth, outdoor recreation has clearly established itself as one of the strongest, most stable activity populations over the last six years. And with a marked boom in enthusiasts, it's evident that Americans are becoming more passionate about their outdoor time," said Frank Hugelmeyer, president of Outdoor Industry Association.
Since 1998, the demographic profile of outdoor participants has shifted younger (median age 35), become slightly more diverse (20% non-white), and attracted more people with families (50% of households with a child under 18), indicating a groundswell of eager new participants and fertile terrain for additional growth.
Crossover participation continues to be strong, as outdoor "participants" are involved in more than three outdoor activities on average, while "enthusiasts" embrace at least four.
"Americans appear to have a very personal connection to the outdoors. They bond with one or two primary outdoor activities, then explore others in a more social, casual way," said Hugelmeyer. "Once people are competent in one outdoor activity, the rest of the world is suddenly a whole lot closer."
According to the Study, the bulk of "participants" and "enthusiasts" are centered on the cornerstone activities of bicycling (87 million/20.4 million), hiking (71.8 million/10.5 million) and camping (68.8 million/10.8 million). Known as "gateway" activities, these pursuits are the primary anchor for attracting new participants, and provide an affordable non-intimidating entry point to other outdoor activities.
The most significant additions of new "participants" since 1998 came in trail running (6.4 million new participants, a 20.5% increase); kayaking (5.7 million new participants, a 235.7% increase); canoeing (4.3 million new participants, an 18.1% increase); and snowshoeing (3 million new participants, a 203.4% increase).
Short-term trends in the Study include a variety of expected fluctuations, as well as a noteworthy increase in "adventure/sports travel" participation. Attracting 55 million participants in 2003 (+14%), the top adventure vacation activities were hiking/backpacking (9.4 million); swimming (8.4 million); fishing (15.2%) and camping (10.1%).
"The diverse outdoor recreation population is growing a lot like a strong mutual fund. The bulk of interest and stability is centered around the blue chips, hiking, biking, camping, paddling, while other activities can be more affected by short-term trends like weather, celebrities, or media coverage," added Hugelmeyer.
The Study was produced for OIA by The Leisure Trends Group. Activities tracked include backpacking; bicycling (paved road); bicycling (single track); bicycling (dirt road); bird watching; canoeing; camping (car); camping (away from car); climbing (artificial wall); climbing (ice); climbing (natural rock); cross-country/Nordic skiing; fly-fishing; hiking; kayaking (recreational); kayaking (touring); kayaking (whitewater); rafting; snowshoeing; telemark skiing; trail running.